The Lives We Leave Behind

Very few places are as completely intoxicating to me as an old book store, and this one did not disappoint. The aromas of the printed page and freshly-brewed dark roast enveloped my senses as soon as I opened the door; the massive collections of literature and carefully-arranged bistro sets beckoned the patrons to sit back and get lost in a new world; the china cabinets tucked away in the cellar, packed top to bottom with beautifully-preserved hard cover copies of Goethe, Dickens and Milton…

“Mommy, I pooped. I pooped, Mommy!”

Grace was banging on the door of my happy place…and trying to tear off her diaper in the nonfiction aisle. I quickly set James Baldwin back on his shelf and hurried to the restroom to prevent a poo-tastrophe. Sitting on the floor and wrestling her into a clean Pull-Up while she tried to kick open the door, I started to wander towards that dark place that sometimes persuades me to visit. I tried to ignore it, but by the time Pat had whisked Grace out of the store and I was waiting at the checkout, it was too late. I had entered the dark place, pulled up a chair, and put Joni Mitchell on the record player.

I glanced over at the 20-somethings who were peacefully sipping their chai while immersing themselves in poetry, and the professors who were taking in volumes about politics and religion. I used to live one of those lives. Before I was nursery rhymes, Legos and chocolate milk, I was Dickenson, sculptures and maple spice lattes. As I glanced from the happy readers to Vince, who was trying to swing from the counter, I began to mourn the loss of that girl.

And so, I paid for a book about puppy police officers (which was surprisingly witty) and a Faulkner novel that I’d probably be too tired to read until the kids were in college, and headed to the car to get lost in traffic and my own misery.

As I drove, I thought of all the directions my life could have taken. All the lives I could have led.

There were the five years that I ran a Holistic medical practice, gave talks on healthy living at my Chiropractor’s office, did clean living consultations at the dining room table in our apartment, and pursued a Graduate degree in Nutrition.

There were the five years that I explored figure and comic book modeling, attended gallery openings, sipped wine and mused about life with people whose talent and intelligence left me in awe.

There was the year I spent researching kitchen rentals to start an allergy-friendly baked goods delivery business.

Then there were the rejected opportunities to study Shakespearean literature in England; to read my poetry to a conference in Florida; and, randomly enough, to do a photo shoot for Bob Mackie (we all know that one wouldn’t have actually happened- three things I have zero patience for are makeup, heels and people telling me not to eat so much).

Could I have been any of the people I had dreamt of becoming? Could I have been a published author? A professor of Shakespearean tragedies? A Nutritionist? A baker with animated vegan cupcakes dancing around on her traveling food truck? As I’m writing this I’m chowing down on a giant bowl of chicken and rice, so let’s just forget I even told you about the Bob Mackie thing.

Grace’s voice interrupted my pity party.

“Vincent here! Popcorn! We share!”

From the rearview mirror I saw Vince gratefully reaching for a plastic Minnie Mouse cup that was stretched as far as it could go in the chubby little hand that clutched it.

That simple exchange awoke many feelings in me- sorrow was definitely not one of them.

And with that I got up, stretched my legs, and strolled out of my dark place, switching off Joni as I closed the door behind me.

Sure, I could have chosen a different life.

But I was too queasy to read my BioChemistry textbook during that dizzying first trimester with Vince…so the Nutrition degree got tossed onto the back burner.

I was tired of getting home at 11pm and missing story time…so modeling was put on hold.

I barely have enough time to prepare lunches… so the bakery business went out the window.

And I’m ok with that.

Because in choosing to veer off those paths, I set my feet firmly in this one.

Literature and lattes and gallery openings are nice. But the life I chose has The Story of Ferdinand, lukewarm coffee, and the premiere of the new Sofia the First.

The life I chose is early bedtimes, morning cuddles, and gliding around a hotel pool in Lancaster during our annual “Birthday Adventure” Weekend, with two giggly kids clinging to me.

The life I chose is baking brownies from a box, birthday parties with Spiderman balloons, and sipping (relatively cheap) wine out of a plastic cup in the backyard, so if anyone’s toy (or head, or foot) crashes into me I don’t have to worry about broken glass.

The life I chose is frantic public diaper changes, finding Cheerios in my bra, and apologizing to the neighbors when the dog pees at their feet while we’re chatting about landscaping and taxes.

The life I chose is eating tacos and watching Discovery documentaries with my husband, ballet flats from Payless, and never having time to straighten my wild, frizzy hair.

Of course, maybe there will be time to explore those other lives one day.

Maybe one day I’ll walk into an old book store, not to browse the shelves, but because I’m about to read an excerpt from my newest book to a group of eager 20-somethings.

Maybe not.

Maybe one day my gluten-free double fudge brownies will be on the shelves at Whole Foods.

Maybe not.

Maybe one day I’ll have the time and patience to learn how to wear makeup and walk in heels- HA, no definitely not that one.

But see, here’s the thing.

Of all the different lives I’ve explored…I wouldn’t trade this one for all the hot coffee in the world.



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